Lindau Special - A personal interview with Joachim Frank (Columbia University)

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Welcome to the Microscopists,

a bite-sized bio podcast hosted by Peter Oto,

sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on the Microscopists,

Today on the Microscopist,

I'm joined by very special guest jocking Frank Nobel laureates.

And we are gonna hear about what it was that brought you into electron

microscopy to move his software developments to help solve structural biology.

It would, it looked very complicated. And then, and picked,

then I learned to use it, and I broke something, uh,

right at the beginning. And, uh, and it was terrible. And then,

uh, uh, and then,

so it really convinced me that I was not,

I was not the right kind to actually interact with the instrument.

And that's really brought me into, uh,

the math and the computation and the software design,

How we try to move into environmental research.

I saw an announcement, uh, by the unesco, uh,

that they started some kind of an environmental thing in Kenya,

and I applied, I applied for it. Uh, and I,

I never got a reply.

And the way he publishes outside of academia,

I write literary fiction. Uh, and so it's a novel, uh, but,

um, I can best think myself into a scientist.

So this is a scientist. It's not me, but it's a scientist

All in this episode of The Microscopist.

Hi, I'm Peter Ol from the University of York, and today on the Microscopist,

I'm truly honored to be joined by Yin Frank from Columbia University. Yim.

How are you today?

Good, thank you. Thank you. Except for the thunderstorm going on.

If anyone hears any interference, it could just thunder in the background and,

uh, cross fingers. We don't get any power cuts from the back of it.

I, I, do you know what, your career is so illustrious.

It's very hard to know where to start on this. So I'm,

I'm gonna be slightly different to normal,

and I'm gonna take you back to when you were

8, 9, 10, 11 years age.

What was the first job that you remember wanting to do as a child?

The first job?

Yeah. What, what, what did Yeah. I wanted to be a footballer or a fireman.


Oh, yeah. Yeah. It was really, uh,

I don't know whether I really had the concept of scientist,

but it would've would've been very close to scientist. Uh, course I did, uh,

experiments, uh, under the veranda of my,

of my parents' house. Wow. Uh,

organ. Well, there, there was a room, a space under the veranda,

and that was unused. And so I built shelves there. And, uh,

collected little bottles is where the Martin Bitter bottles

that were left over from, uh, parties. Yep. Uh,

I filled them with all kinds of chemicals and, uh,

and experimented with all kinds of things.

I've gotta ask, what sort of chemicals? Where did you get them from?

Well, believe it or not, the, I, I was able to, uh,

hydrochloric acid, uh, at the, in the pharmacy,

you know, I was, you know, with I think 12 years old, I, I,

I was able to, to simply get, get this acid. Um,

and, uh, and I had gasoline. Um, uh,

and what, what I also did was, um, I had coal, um,

which I, um, I heard that by heating up coal,

one could get gas out of it.

So as I built myself a little vessel and filled it with,

with coal dust, heated it up from underneath,

and then, um,

and then had a little tube coming out and was able to,

to see that one can really light this, the gas that, that comes out of it.

That was, I, I must have been eight or nine when I did this.

Wow. We, that is, do you know what?

I think right now we're probably lucky you're still alive.

After those experiments, how did you get

Yeah, I had one, one, I, I did have one explosion, uh, but, uh,

I never told my parents about it.

That's quite something. So,

so you're very keen from science from an early age that obviously the chemistry

side by the sounds of that. So I,

I presume your studies took you into your first degree,

and your first degree was in what subject?

Uh, first, I'm sorry, your,

Yeah, your first degree. What was your degree in? Oh, the

Degree. The first degree was, uh, what, which was called 40 diploma,

uh, which is which, which is the BSS degree. Uh, and it was in physics.

I, I mean, the first one was, was of course, the AUR in high school. Yeah.

Aur, you know, uh,

which you call a level or something like this. Yeah, yeah. And then,

and then I went to the University of Fryberg and got my four diploma

or, or a, uh, bs the Bachelor of Science. Yeah.

So, so from your physics, I, I look, I, I'm a biochemist.

I live in the biological world, and I know you exceptionally well by reputation.

So you, you went into physics. What was your next step from your,

what did you see yourself doing at the time that you graduated?

Where did you see your career going at that moment in time?

I, I really had no idea whatsoever. I, I had nothing. And,

and so, but that was really a decisive,

a decisive moment because the, um, uh,

one of the professors in my exam, uh,

he had a relationship to the student in, which is the,

which is in a foundation, a government foundation,

partially government foundation, uh, for,

for, um, funding, uh, you know,

very promising students. And so, so I,

I sort of had excelled in the exam. Uh, and,

and then he nominated me, and that was very decisive because this,

uh, it brought together people from, from all kinds of,

of different disciplines. And so it brought me together with biologists,

neurophysiologists, and, and everything. And, and, and cosmologists and what,

whatever, and people, very diverse,

uh, initial background.

And so when I went from f work to Munich, uh,

subsequently, I immediately was,

was put into this circle of people, you know, because they were, uh,

the, the ex,

this foundation was organized in such a way that they had professors,

uh, which, which were the sort of the point persons in,

in the various cities. Uh, and,

and they made some kind of a social arrangements, so they made parties,

uh, and outings and, and things like this. So I, so I learned, um, I,

I got together with all these different people, and so I was really, um,

and then also this foundation organized, um,

uh, cutting edge, um,

workshops that brought us together with, uh,

with people in molecular biology, with, in, in all kinds of advanced,

uh, fields in, uh, in summer workshops.

And so, so I was sort of really, uh,

put in into this melting pot of different disciplines.

Uh, and, uh, so there was nothing planned about it, uh,

but it was very fortunate. In hindsight,

it was very fortunate that I got confronted with,

with all these different subjects matters.

So I think that's fascinating because that,

one of the reasons as well is I know you,

I think you attend the Lin Down Foundation meetings to Nobel Foundation

meetings, which happen in, in Germany every year,

which is probably the biggest gathering of Nobel laureates outside the awards


And it invites lots of early career scientists to come along

and to be inspired, but also to network together.

That actually sounds quite similar,

because obviously all the Nobel laureates have a very broad disciplines of

the sciences, and it brings everyone together with its early career. So it's,

you must be a big fan of that, because this is now you doing the same back's,

giving you that opportunity.

Yes, yes. It, it's really, uh, I particularly, uh,

enjoy the Leno meetings, uh,

because it brings me together with a much larger cast of noble laureates

than in Stockholm. The Stockholm meetings, uh, you know, tend to be,

I mean, I've, I've only been to, to a single one. Uh, and,

and that was, was really brought together a few people from,

from that area. But, but here in, in Lindo, I got,

I had, um, uh, an amazing number of people that,

um, that I was able to talk to. And then of course, then of course,

I'm aware of the effect that we all noble laureates have

on, on students and, and, uh, what kind of expectations come, you know,

because I remember from the, from the time that I was a student, uh,

how much I looked up at, um,

noble Laureates and, uh,

how enjoy I enjoyed meeting, uh,

and even seeing one of them from, from, from the distance. You know,

it's all very funny to be on the other side of this.

So what would your advice be for people attending the Lin, uh,

Nobel meeting or at any place that you may be attending?

What would your advice be to those early career scientists? Would you say?

Come up and talk if you have a question? Um, well,

Yeah, of course, of course. But, but everybody, everybody is being encouraged,

uh, to do that. Uh, who, who attends the Linda meeting. And,

and the students are really, they're not shy. Uh, they, uh,

they con congregate immediately around you, and they want,

they wanna have selfies and things like this. Um, and,

uh, so I think they, they know that,

that the whole thing is geared toward, uh, informality.

So we, which is good. And hopefully outside of that as well. And hopefully,

actually these podcasts help break down the barriers, because yeah, I,

as an early career scientist long ago,

I remember sort of being intimidated and always thinking that the top

scientists were work, work, and work,

and they must have known what they wanted to do. But as you've said,

when you finished your, your bss, your bachelor's,

that you, you enjoyed science,

and you, you had no direction, I presume, at that point,

but to continue enjoying science,

where did you go next after your bachelor's?

Well, I, I went to Munich, and the only reason I went to Munich was,

was that a couple of friends went to Munich. And I thought, you know, I mean,

this fryberg is a little bit, uh,

a little bit dull, uh, meanwhile, and I,

I just wanted to be in the big city. Um, and, uh,

so, so I simply fell, followed, uh, followed a couple of friends there.

And, uh, uh, enrolled at the university,

uh, did my, I did an diploma applied, which is a master,

uh, thesis, uh, which I,

you know, I, I simply got some, some something assigned to me. Uh,

I didn't know how to, you know, how to go into particular direction. So I,

I went, I came into a project that was insane, uh,

if, if you now think about it, because, um,

it was an, um, a a

which is a professor in Germany.

A is somebody who doesn't have any portfolio. They,

he doesn't have any, uh, any backing, you know, he is simply,

he has a title of professor, but, but he doesn't really have an a footing.

Okay. So he's typically somehow in a, in, in a, in a,

uh, in the group of, of somebody else. Okay. So, so,

so he, uh, but he, uh, gave me the,

um, an a project that was,

um, that had to do with studying the,


the back scattering of electrons on molten metal.

Molten metal. Uh, and, uh, the one with a, with a,

with a, a, I mean, obviously, uh, mercury would,

would be a choice, but, uh, you know, nobody wanted, wants to talk, uh, to,

to make experiments with mercury. So the next one was gold. So,

so I had the job of,

of getting gold in liquid form and, and, um,

shooting electrons on it.

And then looking at the back scattering of this, now,

everything in vacuum. And, and now we have gold in,

in moten form. Okay. And, uh,

in order to bring it in, in, in the moten form, it had to be kept, um,

under electron bombardment, uh, all by itself, you know, from, from,

from the back. I see. So in it, yeah. In a,

with little crucible, uh,

being bombarded from the back by electrons in order to keep it in a moten form,

uh, which of course, produce an incredible, um,

amount of electrons everywhere. So I, and, and then I wanted to,

uh, uh,

I wanted to detect electrons that were back scattered from another beam

of electrons. So, so the whole thing, uh, became,

became an, I mean, sort of kafkaesque, really,

and the only way to do it was to, was to make a,

um, a rectified circuit. Um, and,

and there's a phase in which the, the pot was,

was be, um, uh, heated. And,

and then there was a phase that I could use for, for measuring,

you know, and, and, and so I flipped back and forth between the two.

So you

Removed the contaminating electrons by

Yes. Yeah. Right, right.

Between, between the two of them. Well, I, I'm gonna ask now then,

because that's obviously a very early electron microscope.

What was the first microscope that you used?

Um, that was, um, well, the,

the first micro microscope that I actually saw was in my

mentor's, uh, uh, office,

because he had been an electro microscopy in, in the 1940s.

And he detected, um, he found the, uh,

the scales that makes the, make the interference, um,

pattern on butterfly wings. Okay.

So in 1943, and he had a,

he had a microscope that was mounted like a cannon.

Uh, it, it was,

it was in a oblique way. Uh,

the cathode was where your, your feet are. And, and the,

and the screen was close to your face. And, uh,

and then, and then he had, it had police, uh, to,

to change the, the focus.

So that was my first impression of an electromicroscope.

So it produced,

and then, but, but then my first microscope,

my real microscope was in Walter Hoppers lab, um,

in Munich.

But the way I got there was simply because I

wanted to stay in Munich. I wanted to stay in Munich and,

and wanted to your friends

Hmm. Because of your friends were there, or why did you No,

I, I liked Munich. Meanwhile, I liked Munich.

I wanted to stay there for my graduate studies.

And then I looked for somebody who was doing electro microscopy,

uh, in Munich. And, but the way you know,

that you had no internet, so, and so, you, you went to a, a,

into a library and, and looked at recent conferences and abstracts,

uh, you know, abstracts of conferences.

And they found this little abstract of, of the, of hopper,

you know, doing electro microscopy with molecules. And so,

so the interest in biology was really from the shooting film.

And then electro microscopy came from this very strange

thing that I saw in my former mentors lab.

Were you disappointed when you saw the, the,

the newer type of electron microscope compared to the one? No, no,

No. I was very impressed. It was very large, uh, very large affair.

It, it looked very complicated. And then, in fact,

then I learned to use it, and I broke something, uh,

right at the beginning. And, uh, and it was terrible. And then,

uh, uh, and then,

so it really convinced me that I was not, I not,

was not the right kind to actually interact with the instrument.

And that's really brought me into, uh, the math and the computation,

the software design, you know,

That you don't touch the microscopes that others move over.

So you love Germany, you love Munich,

and then you moved to the usa. So,

No, that this, this was another coincidence because, because I was, um,

I was nominated, well, first of all, after my,

after I did my PhD, I, I,

I didn't know what exactly to do. Uh, and, uh,

eh, first there was the first concern about, uh, environmental,

uh, the, the way the environment was going. And,

and there were already beginnings of environmental research and

this, uh, to see whether I could,

as a physicist with that kind of background,

if I could make a contribution. And, uh, I actually talked with someone and,

but there was no concrete idea. And then all of a sudden, there was an,

there were, I, I saw an announcement, uh, by the unesco, uh,

that they started some kind of an environmental thing in Kenya,

and I applied, I applied for it. Uh, and I,

I never got a reply, you know,

obviously I was poorly qualified for anything like this.

But, but then coincidentally, I, I got an, uh,

uh, I was nominated for the Harkness Fellowship, um,

which is, uh, which is, and, and, and a fund,

um, by the, uh,

Commonwealth Foundation.

The Commonwealth Foundation was, um,

was started by the Harkness, um, people, uh,

Harkness couple, uh, who were in the railroads and, uh, in,

in the United States, and, uh, got a lot of money out of this.

And they, they started this, uh, Commonwealth Fund.

And among them, the Harkness Fellowship, the Harkness Fellowship, brings people,

uh, I think still does from England to the United States

for cultural exchange for first exposure. And at the time,

they had expanded the program to Europe, uh, uh,

and not just to England. And so, I, I, I qualified,

I was nominated, and, and, and then, and then found,

you know, I, I attended a, um, a,

some kind of an, uh, an exam, uh, in,

in Frankfurt. So, so people were brought there for an exam, and then I,

you know, had to ask, uh, answer all kinds of questions. And then,

and then I got the fellowship,

and it was a great thing because they gave me money to travel in the

United States and pick any labs that I wanted Wow. For two years.

So I, I made contact with, um, uh, with various people.

And, uh, uh, this, again,

one coincidence, uh, one accident after the other, because I,

through, through my father, uh, through one of my father's friends,

I knew that there wasn't somebody in a researcher doing electro

microscopy at Cornell University.

And that was Ben Siegel, uh,

who did experimental research. Um,

and, uh, with a 600, uh, uh, KV microscope,

that was the time when everybody, when,

when certain institution had 600 KV microscopes to play with.

And then nothing ever came out of that. So,

so I, I sort of, um, got in touch with him, and he,

um, he was delighted. Yes. And he made, made all kinds of arrangements.

And then I think three weeks before my flight,

uh, was, uh, was going there, he said, you know, actually,

actually confessed, um, that, um, they never got the,

uh, the, uh, scanner to work. Okay. One, one needed ca scanners and,

you know, to get, uh, images into the computer.

And, uh, but he had a friend at, uh, at the J P L,

at the J Jet Propulsion Lab. And, uh,

he suggested that I go there first and then to him. Um,

and so I went up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, uh,

instead of at Cornell, which of course, at the time

was the, uh,

was the most advanced lab in the world in image processing.

Okay. So, so it, it was,

it was great fun to be there in that kind of environment.

So, so that's in California? Yes.

Yeah, in Pasadena.

So you,

you love Munich and you had this big,

how old were you when you went to California?

Oh, um, uh, maybe

23. Uh, uh, some, no, wait a moment. Uh, no, I,

I was, that was 70, no, 30 years.


So you, you loved Munich. You went to Munich to follow friends,

you then loved Munich.


Yeah. To then go from Munich to California. Were you,

and I'd imagine culturally, because the US then was very different.

Very different. Uh, I, I, I, it was,

it was terrifying, uh, you know, uh,

and, uh, you know, people, people didn't walk on the streets, uh, you know,

especially Pasadena and, and, uh,

you know, the culture was so completely different. But, but the, but the,

uh, but the money that I got from this foundation was such that,

um, uh, I, I, we were able to, to buy,

um, a used car, uh, a Cale and, and, um,

convertible, uh, and a fantastic car. Uh,

and so we were sort of flung into this completely different world there, uh,

driving around in a, in a convertible, uh, in an open convertible.

So just you that went over, you said we, no, no, I, I, I, uh,

I got married in, uh, uh, 1968.

Um, and, uh, so I, uh, met,

met my wife in, uh, Munich. Um,

we got divorced later on, uh, after, uh, uh,

after I went to the United States for the second time.

But at the time, I cruised around with my, with my wife, and, um,

we went to the various different places. So from the,

from the J J P L, uh, you know,

at the time there were the space missions, the, the images came in, uh,

for the first time. And, uh, it wasn't, you know,

it was a great, very interesting environment. And then,

uh, uh, from, from there, uh,

we visited, um, Berkeley because we had so many, uh,

we heard so much about the hippies and things like this, and hey,

Ashbury. Um, and then, and then all of a sudden,

um, it dawned on us that, you know,

going from Pasadena to Cornell would, would be, would be pretty awful,

you know? And we wanted to have some time in Berkeley.

And, uh, so I reached out to, um, Bob Glazer,

um, so Bob Glazer, um,

and he was delighted to have me there for three quarters of an hour of

a year or so. Um, and, uh, before I,

I, we would go to, uh, Cornell and, and, and there, that,

that was a very decisive, um, period of time because, uh, he was,

uh, doing experiments in radiation damage. Um,

and he played around with hydration, uh,

hydration chambers and, and, um, uh, and did the first,

um, cryo, uh, cryo experiments, uh,

which didn't work that well, because he used liquid nitrogen,

um, rather than, um, propane. So,

or propane, or, or Ethan, yeah, Ethan, yeah.

It was the breakthrough later on by dei. But at the time,

that was already a very interesting environment

because he, he found out the, uh,

very strong, uh, radiation sensitivity of, of, uh,

of proteins and so on. So,

so that brought me in into that kind of place.

So, so, so that's really just, just checking back,

I think that's probably your first bio interaction then when you got with Bob,

uh, and start to go more biological.


Hence the biological, well, you're so well known. Well,

did you see yourself cont carrying on around the bio applications?

Or did you see yourself moving back into more chemical type work,

or just the, the hardcore physics side of things?

Well, I, I, I,

I was really already very focused on image processing as a way

of, of getting structures of, of molecules.

Um, so, so I saw myself getting into structural biology,

but the term didn't exist at the time, you know?

Wow. So, just, just, and of course, you know, then you've got on the X-ray side,

how much do you, uh, did you have excused my ignorance,

did you have much to do with the x-ray structural biology?

Or did you always keep with the electron side and the structural?

I was always on the LEC electron side. I, in, uh, at the, uh,

the hopper place Hopper himself was an ex crystallographer

who had developed an interest in electron microscopy. And so,

so I was aware of, of the,

essentially the theoretical background and,

and the sort of the infrastructure that had developed there.

Uh, but, but I, I continued to be focused on,

uh, on the electron microscopy part. And he,

I was encouraged by him to, to stay, uh, in that, in that area.


is that because he didn't want you to compete against him in the x-ray area,

or because he actually was visionary enough to realize what the electrons would

do, because the X-ray?

No, he was, yeah. Yeah. He, he was visionary enough, uh,

but he was very impractical, uh,

because because he was always ahead of himself and other people. Uh,

so, uh, he, he never came out with, with,

with a proposal that could really be realized. Uh, and, uh,

that, I mean, immediately when, when he hired me, he,

he spoke about, uh, you know,

taking x-ray programs and re realizing them a little bit, uh,

in order to, you know, get three D reconstruction in electron microscopy.

When, when I first, when I saw the quality of, of the,

of electron microscope data, uh,

I saw that completely,

completely different kinds of approaches were needed, um, that,

that were, that existed in statistical optics and,

and so on from completely different fields, uh,

when had to import concepts in order to even, uh,

deal with these kind of data. Just,

Just changing tack a little minute with the four countries.

The first of the quick fire questions would be, and this is,

is probably unfair because this is what it was like back then,

but Germany or the uk,


Would be Germany or the uk?

What, what, what about it? Uh, yeah,

Which one would you prefer? Which is your favorite? Germany, uk

Well, Germany is, is, is where I grew up. So it's, it's an unfair question.

Okay. I've never, never grown up in, in the uk Okay.

Gonna get harder. Yeah. UK or U usa.

Um, well, the air, what, um, what really,

uh, is important is that, um, we wound up in England.

Now, England is a, is is not a very warm, you know,

emotionally warm part of the uk. Uh, it,

it's holy saved. It's, it's true, it's true. It's, it's really as an,

as somebody coming from somewhere else, uh, it, it is, you,

you get the idea, you have to stay there for 20 years,

and then you're still somehow, uh, not,

not really from there. Uh, it's different between, I, you know,

we notice the difference between England and Wales and Ireland

very, very strongly. So, so,

UK in itself is a, is is not a, another,

not a real good question. You have to say England or,

or Wales or something like that.

So I, I presume you're saying u s A in this case,

so U s A or Germany,

Um, war


Yeah. Well, it, it's, it's, it's, again, you know, I,

my emotional roots are in Germany. Uh, however,

uh, I, I really, um,

I really, um, found myself,

found myself really welcoming, uh, to get immersed in,

in into a different language. Uh, the, uh, German,

the German language was really contaminated, uh,

by the Nazi era. Uh, it,

it was very difficult to express yourself. Um, I,

I'm talking about expressing myself in fiction or poetry and in what, whatever.

Uh, it, it was really, uh, contaminated by

word associations. So, so in order to express yourself, you had to,

you had to sort of go in a roundabout way. Um, and,

and so reinventing yourself in the,

in English language was, was very refreshing to me. Now,

you could say, I could have done the same thing in the uk, uk, uh,

but I wonder was not in the UK long enough. Yeah. Uh, to, to really,

um, uh, you know, go, uh,

on with, with, uh, with different kinds of, um, activities,

you know?

So it, it's interesting you talk about poetry and everything. Council,

you sent me this picture.

It's probably a good time to bring this picture into the background. Uh,

so these are your books or a book that you published?

Uh, so those who are listening,

Well, I mean, one book, I I, I only published one book, which,

which is the one with the, with a lady, uh, Anza,

the other, the other ones are, are simply books in, in waiting.

Uh, they are manuscripts. And I,

I put fancy covers there, uh, that,

that I might use or not use.

Tell me, what is the book about? What, what,

what genre is the book? What's it about?

Uh, it, it's all, uh, literary fiction.

So I write literary fiction, uh, and so it's a novel. Um,

but, um,

I can best think myself into a scientist.

So this is a scientist. It's not me, but it's a scientist. And,

and so the scientist has European roots as I,

um, he's, he's in the United States, um, and,

uh, and he gets a chance to visit Europe again.

Um, and, uh, uh, in fact, it's a, it's a conference,

uh, on fluid dynamics in, uh, in the Hague, uh,

in sc. Uh, so he winds up there, um,

and, uh, and is confronted with this hotel.

This hotel is bizarre. It's, it's like an, uh, labyrinth. Uh,

and, uh, so, so he spends some time there. He,

he runs into his, uh, a former girlfriend,

um, uh, uh, in, in sc and then,

uh, after,

and this affair rekindles again. And then, um,

and then sort of, but then it, it stops. And,

and he is sort of very, um, very down. Uh,

and then he takes a,

he takes a train ride to Austria to visit his

aunt. Um, and on the, on the trip, he,

he comes down with a, with a strange viral disease, um,

and, uh, which he, which, uh, leaves him handicapped. Um,

and then he spends months, uh, under the care, uh,

of his aunt. Um, and, uh,

and then slowly recovers.

I have to ask, why scathing gun? Oh, that,

that's an obscure place on the coast near the Hague. Oh,

It's simply because I was, I was, uh, in a conference in,

in the Hague, uh, and, and I, I actually attended,

I was on this, in this hotel Anza. Uh, and, uh,

so that gave me the inspiration later on to write a short story.

I wrote a short, I, I came to the United States. I was in Albany, um,

uh, and, and I took fiction writing, uh, lessons, uh,

from a man, uh, who gave,

gave these classes at the, at the public library.

And his name was William Kennedy. He was not known at the time.

So, so he gave these classes for me and some horse clothes. Uh,

and, uh, and I, uh,

put in this short story about Anza,

which was inspired by the, by the, the trip. And then he said,

this is fantastic. This is, this is absolutely fantastic. And, and he told me,

you have to expand it into a novel. Okay, you, if you, uh, and so,

so I, I got very encouraged by this, and then wrote, and wrote, and wrote,

and then it became, it became something, you know, uh,

a much larger piece.

That's awesome. And I, my interest in skating again, is my, uh,

I used my late friend, uh, Ben Vander. Uh,

I used to go and visit Netherlands quite often. Oh, yeah.


And he used to, he used to take me there with his mom, Johnny,

and we used to watch the International fireworks there.

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

This place. Kind of a fun place. I look forward to seeing what the,

the next books will be.

Yeah. Okay.

I'm gonna go to quick fire questions,

because I think I now know the answer to one of them, but here we go.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Um, I'm, I'm actually both. Uh,

so, uh, right now I'm, I'm really getting up at, at six o'clock.

Uh, and, uh, I just, I just like to,

I like to sort of have, have time, uh,

in the morning to do all kinds of things. Um, and, uh,

so yeah, typically I have to have two hours, uh,

to play around essentially, and do all kinds of things. And then later,

later on, later on, uh,

I really appreciate the time to, uh, to write. Um,

and, uh, yeah, I,

Yeah. No, that's good. Are you a PC or Mac person?

Uh, I'm a Mac. Mac person. Yeah. Yeah.

McDonald's or Burger King,


I knew that was gonna be the answer. If you were to, to go out to eat,

what type of food would you like to go to? What type of restaurant do you like?

A Mediterranean. Okay. Uh, very much. Yeah. Um,



The time,

If you, uh, I,

I'm sure many times you're taken out to dinner and you don't get a choice about

what you're gonna eat, it's put in front of you.

What is your favorite food that they,

what is actually favorite dish they could put in front of you?

Favorite food, favorite dish? Um, I think, um,

something like lasagna. Uh, I like,

I like food that is in some way integrated, uh,

diverse inside, uh, has texture. Uh,

I tend to be more vegetarian now than, than I used to be.


there's some exceptional vegetarian foods that, uh,

exist me in one.

Yep. And a good corn las actually is, is for me,

preferred over beef las personal preference. Uh,

what is the worst dish that could be put in front of you?

What is the worst, the worst dish? The worst dish. The worst food

Dish. Yeah, the worst dish. Um, I think, um, that would be,

uh, there, there are a lot of worst dishes. Um, uh,

kidney pie, um, uh,

you know, um, and then, and then liver.

Oh, I like liver. I mean, I, I'm pretty running away from this. I mean,

I can't even be on the same table with this kind of stuff.

I, I, what's worse? Kidney or liver? Or They both equally bad.

Um, they're really equally bad. They, but, but it's really multidimensional.

They're, they're, they're bad in different ways, in different directions.

And, and so it's, it's sort of an un unfair question. I

Think the un quite fond of liver. I cannot do at all. Yeah.

That hadn't contemplated that in my worst dish, but that's a good one.

Coffee or tea?


What looks like a coffee cup at No, they,

They, they water actually. Yeah.

Beer or wine? Wine. Red or white?


Oh, I didn't expect that. With a Mediterranean. The sand. No,

No. I get, I get headaches with, with red, red wine. Okay.

There was difficulty for sea. Yeah.

Chocolate or cheese?


Chocolate or cheese.

Chocolate or cheese.


Well, I would never choose between them at the same time. I, I would,

these are at, at different times. You,

You were a fan of both.

Yeah. Yeah.

Okay. Uh, TV or book?

Oh, um, I think book, uh,

book is, is sort of a sentimental preference, uh,

because I like myself to be a book reader.

But then the Covid time has brought me so much into the tv, uh,

era. Uh, I, I, you know, we've been,

we've been watching so many things, so many shows.

What have you been watching?

Oh, God. Uh, all the South Korean, uh, movies,

unbelievable number of, of Korean movies. Um,

and, uh, and even, uh, movies from, uh, uh,

that take place in Istanbul, uh,

entire series that go on, uh, for 50 episodes.

They're always involve very stink, stinky riches, uh,

people. Mm-hmm. Uh, that always have affairs and, and,

and, uh, you know, things in the closet.

That, that, that's a brilliant answer. Really brilliant answer. Uh,

my next question, you mentioned film. Do you have a favorite film?



Um, oh, well, uh, the, the Princess Pride, you know,

uh, yeah. You, you, you know that, uh,

No, I don't, I'm sorry.

The Princess Pride. You don't know Princess Pride? Oh, sorry. No.

Well, it, it, it is, it is such a classic. Uh, it is.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, there are some reunions, uh,

of actors, uh, and, uh, uh,

and the audience, the audience know every single word. And, you know,

it's, it's really fantastic, you know.

So the next question is that Star Trek or Star Wars,

Um, I'm really very much bored by these things.


Neither not. So,


Okay. And one, one thing to ask everyone is,

do you have a favorite Christmas film?

Christmas film? Yeah. Um, no,

I, you know, I sort of, I, I,

I was weaned out of Christmas by marrying, uh,

my Jewish wife, uh, uh, this is my second wife. Mm-hmm. And,

uh, so, uh, I, I don't really, I,

I don't have a lot of sentiments about Christmas. I mean, their,

their memories from, uh, from early childhood.

But, uh, but I, I'm sort of, I,

I have a bit of a resentment against the whole Christmas, um,

uh, Christmas show,

The wraparound and everything. Yeah.

Yeah. Okay.

So what other hobbies do you actually, so obviously you an author, you write,

and that's your hobbies. Do you have any other hobbies?

Uh, photography. Photography, and, and I, I, I really, I,

I like, I like the accidental discoveries, the things that,

that are sort of on the wayside to the things that in the cracks between,

uh, yeah. There, there's, there's something. Okay. So

This is a picture for those listening of, it's just a trash bin.

It's something is looking out, out at you there.

I mean, such a, such a strong impression there.

Uh, and I mean, and so there's so many things. And,

and what I love is, is the struggle between, um,

civilization and, and, and the innate,

um, life, you know, the plants and so forth. And sometimes I see little,

little plants coming out of the cracks. Um, uh,

and, and then yeah,

You also see, so you sent me a few pictures. I've only picked a few of these,

and, but you see science in these pictures as well, I presume. I, I,


this picture's slightly worried because it makes it look like I've got a massive

hairdo song. It's, it's a donut.

What? Yeah. Yeah. Uh, no, no. I mean, this is a, this is a huge, um,

uh, trunk, uh, you know, a tree trunk Yeah.

Which is hollowed out in the middle. And, and I, I,

and it, it, you know, you,

you can put the camera in different ways and put it in such a way that,

that there is some kind of an, a scene at, at, at the end.

So I made it into, um, and I'm, I'm fascinated about,

uh, putting a juxtaposition between images and text.

So I may make up a legend about this. And for me, that was a,

a one-to-one telescope. Okay.

It's a telescope that just has a magnification of one. And,

uh, and, and so the only thing that it's doing is really, it,

it, uh, it masked out, uh,

a particular area of interest. Okay. So it's pointed,

uh, and then you see in the background, there's a little,

there's a little bit of everything. There's an, um,

there's the pebbles, there's a rock, there's a little bit, um,

of the, uh, of the forest. And it's just fantastic.

And then after, after that,

I found a number of things like this that could also be telescopes.

Well, this is This, this tells a story.

This tells a story. Because here we have an, uh,

we have this piece of, of seaweed, uh, and, uh,

and then, and the,

the water washed over it in a particular direction.

And so the, the,

the texture of this object produce the texture of the

background. And, you know, it's all fascinating,

and it,

It's the science, but again, you are also, you're not just seeing the scene,

you're seeing the science that's being created.

Yeah. Yeah.

For, for me, when I looked at those,

I can see the scientist in your photography.

Yeah. Yeah.

You may be seeing, I think I'm certainly seeing a scientist eye thinking, well,

that's interesting because, and it's a scientific mind seeing. Yeah,

Yeah. You know, I mean, so I, for instance, uh, I,

I see certain contraptions, and they don't make any sense. Uh,

they're leftovers of some kind of another industrial era.

And then I, I get a photograph of this, and then, and then, uh, it's a,

uh, to me it's a perpetual mo motion machine, which,

which for some reason that, you know, stop working or something like this,

you know,

so you can really go into the myths and

bring this all together.

So I, I, I've, we are, I've got about five minutes left.

Oh my goodness. Uh, I have to ask at 10, 12,

you want to be a scientist? You become a scientist. If you,

you could do any other job just for a day or a week just to see what

it's like. What type of job would you like to sample?


I, I don't know. Uh, you know,

I, I'd, I would've liked to be a writer, but I, I,

I just, I, I don't know what it, what it really would mean from day to day,

you know,

because I know what it means to have the

intensity of concentration on writing,

but I couldn't do that for 12 hours, you know? So I,

I could do it for two hours, and then I have to imagine,

what could I do the next three hours? And, and, you know,

so it's, it's, it's very difficult to put myself in into this, uh,

idea. And I might, I might not have survived as a rider,


So, on a, on a more back to the science side, uh,

obviously you, you've got your Nobel Laureate did that,

what, what are the, very briefly,

what are the positives and what are the negatives of winning a Nobel Prize?

So I'm sure it's not all positives.

Well, the positives are, you know, it's very flattering. You get the, uh,

you get the recognition, um, uh, and, and,

uh, you know, what we talked about before is all of a sudden opportunity to,

to meet, uh, to meet famous people, uh, and, uh, and,

and not, uh, not be shy about it. And, you know,

I can reach out to, uh, people who are,

who are really, uh, have achievements, uh, all by themselves.

Uh, I've got to travel. Uh, I got, uh,

fancy invitations everywhere. Uh, the downside is,

is really, uh, that they are, there's so many,

there's so many cho uh, choices of, of these things,

and I'm getting overwhelmed by it. It's very difficult to,

um, essentially even, even even this, this,

the, the entire, uh, uh,

composure, uh, of, of, of, of constant gratitude, you know?

Uh, and then the other thing, the very, very difficult thing is,

is that all of a sudden I'm, I'm being asked about,

uh, opinions that I shouldn't have any opinion about.

You know, because I am, I'm not a, I'm not an expert, but,

but somehow people seem to think that, um, you know,

because I have achievement in one area, uh,

my judgements in all areas are, are very, very sound and so forth.

And that's a dangerous part, because I don't wanna, I don't wanna,

you know, uh, exploit, uh,

that, that kind of, um, opportunity.

Well, I feel flattered because a, you invited to say to lots of things,

and you said yes to this. So that's, thank you. And, uh, the negative,

when you were saying you get asked about all sorts of things,

I thought you were gonna say your hobbies and photography. I thought, oh, no,

that's what we've just covered. Uh,

we're up to the hour mark already, and do you know what you said?

How I become famous? Enable you to meet more famous people.

But I will do a call out that meeting and

the opportunity to encourage those early careers to not see barriers and

to come up and say hello. Be polite, but don't be intimidated.

We're all scientists. You're, you know,

one thing I've learned through doing this is everyone is exceptionally

approachable and likes to talk, and not necessarily just about science,

but to show how science develops. Uh,

so I have to ask you one more question.

We know what you're famous for,

but is there one thing that you are most proud of in your research career?

Most proud of? Um,

Sorry, it's a tough question.

Uh, well, I, I think, I think the most proud of is,

is that really that I was able to make contributions to,

uh, the structural basis of, uh, protein synthesis. Um,

I would never have thought that I would ever get into that direction,

and it was really all by accident, uh,

because the ribosome was just such a perfect molecule

to demonstrate, uh, the technology with.

And all of a sudden I found myself making actual contributions to

biology, and that was really something that was, I, I never, uh,

uh, uh, could, could foresee.

But if I take you back to when you went to the U s a,

you looked at UNESCO application,

you wanted to help the environment because you saw that as an upcoming problem,

arguably because people are now song being structures of proteins that they

couldn't do before. These have implications in environmental biology.

So have you ever reflected back and think, actually through my work,

you are now having an impact through others work using what you've helped


Well, I see, I see in a very large impact. Uh,

I, I actually, I don't, I don't see the one, uh, in,

in the direction of, of the environmental sciences that, that much, uh,

you know, I mean, uh, I, I don't, I don't, I don't really see this,


Oh, I, I think once, you know,

the structure of the proteins and how they work and how they can

be promoted to help store more carbon dioxide and so forth,

lot of those,

But I mean, we, in this way,

I can really be connected now to, uh, to, uh,

all sciences, uh, you know, because they're always pathways. Yeah.

That's why it's so amazing. You, you may have gone down one route,

but the impact it's has by,

by what you've done and to different fields.

It, it's, it's really absolutely staggering. Uh, I mean, if, if I,

if I think about, if, if I think about, uh, you know, eight, eight,

uh, titans in Abu Dhabi or something like this, you know,

this is all coming out.

It's quite amazing. Lucky we have to stop now because it's up to the hour.

Amazing guest. And I think what strikes me is, in your own words,

you've kind of had accidental impacts that you didn't foresee through an

accidental career, which I think was your words earlier on,

and all led to a Nobel. But you're still yucking,

you're still so influential.

You like to meet people and really are these

inspirational. And I, I,

maybe you don't realize just how big an effect and impact you've had outside

your own area and how that's, I know, trickled it's not trickled down,

but how it's spread throughout community.

Thanks. Thanks very much.

Can't wait to meet up in person soon. And thank you so much today.

Yeah. Take care.

Thank you for listening to the Microscopists,

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Creators and Guests

Lindau Special - A personal interview with Joachim Frank (Columbia University)